Meningitis is a serious condition who prevalence is growing. In this Page, I will first look at this disease’s specificity and symptomatology (Section A) and follow up with treatment plans, both conventional and holistic (Section B)
Acute meningitis is considered a medical emergency. A very scary finding shows a high percentage (up to 75 percent) of all life-threatening meningitis cases occur in young children under the age of 5. Meningitis has also become an increasingly serious problem among teens and young adults between the ages of 15–24, due to how certain contagious types can spread easily in crowded school or university settings.
Of all the types of meningitis, bacterial meningitis is considered the most serious and life-threatening. While about 50 percent of bacterial meningitis cases were fatal in the past, this statistic has dropped significantly to about 10–15 percent thanks to recent medical advancements. (1)
Meningitis is such a serious condition because it directly threatens the health of the brain and poses many risks to the central nervous system (CNS). Some of the earliest meningitis symptoms — which should be treated right away to prevent complications — include sudden severe headaches, high fever, vomiting and neck pain.
How likely is it that meningitis will cause serious complications or long-term damage? This depends on factors including: the specific type of pathogen that is causing the illness; how long it takes the affected patient to receive treatment (the longer the delay, the greater the potential for complications); and the health and age of the patient.
What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection characterized by “inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord.” (2) Meningitis can be caused by a viral infection (the most common type), bacterial infection or, rarely, parasitic or fungal infection. Infants, children, teens and adults can all develop meningitis, although different types of meningitis tend to affect different age groups.
Meningitis causes dysfunction of the meninges, along with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is fluid that protects the structures of the central nervous system.
Meninges are defined as “the three membranes (the dura mater, arachnoid, and pia mater) that line the skull and vertebral canal and enclose the brain and spinal cord.” The meninges, along with cerebrospinal fluid, basically serve as the brain’s protectors, form a barrier that helps to prevent germs or any traumatic process from directly affecting the brain.
CSF is located in the head and along the entire spinal cord, helping the spinal cord to basically “float” and serving as a buffer against trauma. When someone develops meningitis the germs (viruses, bacteria or fungus) that cause the disease make their way into the cerebrospinal fluid.
Signs & Symptoms of Meningitis
Meningitis symptoms have a lot in common with symptoms of the flu, which is why the two illnesses are commonly confused. Symptoms of bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis symptoms develop more quickly than spinal meningitis or other types, usually over the course of several days.
Meningitis symptoms can differ somewhat depending on which type of meningitis someone has, although developing a fever, having strong headaches, vomiting and experiencing neck stiffness are common symptoms among all types. (3) For many patients, the infection first starts as a respiratory or ear infection and then spreads to the organs, bloodstream and brain.
In children (over the age of 2) and adults the following meningitis symptoms are most common: (4)
•nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting
•fatigue, drowsiness, sluggishness
•confusion and disorientation
•sensitivity to bright light
•poor appetite and decreased thirst
•less often, abnormal skin color or skin rash
•very cold hands and feet
•muscle aches or joint pain
•rapid breathing and chills
Meningitis symptoms in infants/babies can include: (5)
•sudden high fever
•irritability and constant crying (including when being held)
•difficult eating or with breast-feeding
•fatigue/lethargy and abnormal inactivity
•a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby’s head
•and signs of stiffness in the body and neck.
Meningitis is a very serious illness that is usually treatable but can be life-threatening. In severe cases meningitis can cause seizures and coma. Sometimes inflammation of the encephalic structures (encephalitis) can also develop if treatment is too late or isn’t able to control the infection. When treatment is delayed there is also the risk of developing permanent brain damage, hearing loss, or neurological damage, especially in susceptible patients such as infants, young children or the elderly.
Types of Meningitis
1. Viral meningitis
This is the most common type of meningitis, but fortunately it’s usually mild and goes away on its own without causing long-term problems. Most often viral meningitis is caused by a group of viruses called “enteroviruses,” which include common viruses like herpes simplex virus, HIV, mumps and West Nile virus. These viruses affect people most often when the weather is warm (summer and early fall), but can be acquired at any time of year.
2. Bacterial meningitis
Bacterial meningitis develops when certain types of harmful bacteria either enter the bloodstream and then travel to the meninges (brain and spinal cord), or directly invade the meninges after an ear infection, sinus infection, skull fracture or surgery.
What is the difference between meningitis and meningococcal disease? According to the CDC, “Meningococcal disease is any illness caused by a type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. These illnesses are serious and include meningitis and bloodstream infections (septicemia).” (6) There are four primary types of bacterial meningococcus meningitis: types A, B, C and Y. Meningococcal meningitis can affect people of any age, but it is more common in children and young adults. This type can occur at any time of the year but is more common during the winter and early spring.
The strains of bacteria that can cause bacterial meningitis are: (7)
• Streptococcus pneumoniae — currently the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in infants, young children and adults. This type occurs when bacteria spread from the bloodstream. It is sometimes called pneumococal meningitis, which tends to follow an ear infection or head injury.
• Neisseria meningitidis — usually causes an upper respiratory infection and affects teenagers and young adults. According to the World Health Organization, Neisseria meningitidis has the potential to cause large epidemics. There are 12 serogroups of N. meningitidis that have now been identified, six of which (A, B, C, W, X and Y) experts believe are capable of causing epidemics. (8)
• Haemophilus influenzae — used to be the leading cause in children.
• Listeria monocytogenes — also called listeria and found in bacteria-prone foods including unpasteurized cheeses and deli meats/processed meats like hot dogs and cold cuts.
3. Fungal meningitis
Fungal meningitis is less common than viral or bacterial meningitis and is caused by slow-growing organisms that invade the meninges. Usually this results in chronic meningitis, which causes long-term symptoms including headaches, fever, vomiting and mental cloudiness. Unlike viral and bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis isn’t contagious. People who have weakened immune systems/immune deficiencies are most at risk, including people with HIV/AIDS, cancer or autoimmune diseases.
4. Parasitic meningitis
Naegleria fowleri is a type of parasite that has been detected all over the world, although it only very rarely causes meningitis. This microscopic organism enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. It is found in warm freshwater sources (such as lakes, rivers, and hot springs) and can also be transmitted by contaminated soil run-off or warm water discharged from industrial sources. Rarely, it may be acquired when swimming in contaminated pools or hot tubs that use water heaters.
5. Non-infectious meningitis
As described above, meningitis is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or other infectious agents. However, rarely meningitis can also be caused by inflammation, chemical irritation or by infiltration of malignant cells.
Meningitis Causes & Risk Factors
Pathogens (or germs) that cause meningitis penetrate the central nervous system structures through three possible routes: by traveling through the bloodstream, by by proliferating near the meninges following an infection, or by direct contact.
Is bacterial meningitis contagious? Yes!
The bacteria that cause meningitis can be transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions, which happens most often from close contact. Transmission can happen within about two to four days due to kissing someone who is infected or from sneezing, coughing, living in close quarters, sharing eating or drinking utensils, or intercourse. What’s surprising is that experts believe up to 20 percent of the population carries Neisseria meningitidis in their throat at any given time, but the bacteria don’t normally cause infection in most cases.
Risk factors for developing meningitis include: (9)
•Recovering from an illness, such as the flu or an infection (especially an ear, sinus or respiratory infection).
•Living in close quarters where diseases can easily spread, such as college campuses/dormitories, boarding schools, military bases or nursing homes.
•Being a pregnant woman, or mother to a newborn. During pregnancy listeria is capable of crossing the placental barrier and causing an infection that can be fatal to the fetus.
•Being an older adult who has a weakened immune system.
•Due to contact with fecal contamination, typically when proper hand-washing isn’t practiced. This can also happen when changing diapers or using public toilets that someone who is infected has used.
•Any type of spreading of eye, nose, and mouth secretions, or blister fluid.
•Recently suffering from some type of chemical reaction or drug allergy.
•Recovering from cancer or an inflammatory disease such as sarcoidosis.
•Recovering from surgery, especially surgery where incisions are made in the head/skull. Surgery is the riskiest among people with AIDS, diabetes, alcoholism or those who are taking immunosuppressant medications.
Conventional Treatments for Meningitis
Treatment for meningitis will depend on the type that someone has (the specific pathogen causing the infection).
The most common way that meningitis is treated is using intravenous antibiotics (for bacterial meningitis) and/or broad spectrum antibiotics. Depending on the meningitis symptoms that a patient is experiencing, other treatments may also be needed to control shock, swelling of the brain, convulsions, infected sinuses and dehydration. Sometimes surgery is needed to relieve brain-inflamed membranes and reduce swelling/pressure surrounding the brain.
Antibiotics do not work to treat bacterial meningitis. Most viral cases are mild and will resolve without treatment within several weeks (much like the flu). During this time it’s recommended that the patient gets lots of rest (even bed rest), avoids close contact with others and takes over-the-counter pain medications to reduce muscle aches and pains. Additionally, sometimes antiviral medications are used to help speed up the healing process.
A Word about Meningitis Vaccines:
•Vaccines for meningitis include: the Haemophilus influenza type b (or Hib vaccination), pneumococcal conjugate and polysaccharide vaccines, and meningococcal (MCV4) vaccine.
•These vaccines are not able to prevent all cases of meningococcal disease and do not work to treat an infection that has already developed. There are also no vaccines available at this time to protect against enteroviruses, the most common cause of viral meningitis.
•Keep in mind that although it’s very serious, meningitis is treatable.
•Sometimes vaccines can cause serious allergic reactions. If you choose to vaccinate, make sure you know the risks and can recognize the signs of an allergic reaction.
Knowing the type of meningitis that a patient has is the ultimate factor in determining the best way to treat the disease
Aside from the natural treatment protocols, there are also certain changes to your lifestyle that you should make to not only get rid of meningitis, but keep your body in tiptop shape and aid in preventing other illnesses from harming you
Despite the pain and discomfort that it could give to a patient, meningitis is fortunately a curable disease. To help yourself get well from meningitis, try applying or following these natural remedies for a fuss-free and speedy recovery, minus harmful side effects.
Typical Treatment Protocols for Meningitis Can Be Risky
Since meningitis is caused by either viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites,1 there are different meningitis treatment protocols that you can opt for. Knowing the type of meningitis that a patient has is the ultimate factor in determining the best way to treat the disease.2
Unfortunately, conventional meningitis remedies often do more harm than good. Research has proven that some remedies may not even work in treating the disease, but rather, could further cause negative health impacts.
Patients with viral meningitis are prescribed antiviral medications, especially if the sickness occurs because of a severe herpes or influenza virus infection.
But two known anti-viral medications, Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir), were shown by the Cochrane Collaboration to not only be ineffective in treating flu, but also to lead to serious side effects.
In fact, the report showed that there is no significant evidence linking these drugs to a decrease in viral transmission.3 Further, Tamiflu was linked to side effects such as:4
Heart rhythm problems
Meanwhile, bacterial and parasitic meningitis patients are often given antibiotics like cephalosporins and rifampin that come with harmful side effects as well.5
A 2016 study published in the journal Cell Host Microbe revealed that antibiotics could actually promote diseases, because they create an oxygen-rich environment that could spur the growth of pathogens.6
Antibiotics also not only kill beneficial bacteria residing in your gut, but destroy your immune system (80 percent of which is in your gut) in the process.
However, if a case of meningitis is so severe that antibiotic treatment may really be necessary, make sure that you take a probiotic a few hours before or after taking the antibiotic to replenish your supply of healthy bacteria. High-dose IV medications, amphotericin B or miconazole may be recommended to treat fungal and parasitic meningitis. Unfortunately, various antifungal medications have been linked to devastating side effects such as:7
Itching and redness
Mild burning sensation/s
Pain in the muscles, joints and abdomen
Allergic reactions (swelling of the face, neck or tongue)
Severe skin reactions (blistering skin)
Liver damage (although this is rare)
Loss of appetite
High temperature fever
Anemia (wherein the amount of red blood cells in your body is reduced)
These Natural Treatment Methods Are More Effective
Instead of these conventional treatments for meningitis that could pose a threat to your health, why not try these natural remedies? Here are some of your best options:8
• Garlic: A very accessible and inexpensive superfood, garlic was shown to be effective against multiple diseases (meningitis included) because of allicin, its active ingredient. Allicin and other organic compounds in garlic are loaded with antioxidants that have antiviral and antibacterial capabilities. Meningitis patients will surely benefit from garlic, since it can support the elimination and prevention of infections.
• Reishi mushrooms: These mushrooms that have a bright red color and varnished “finish”9 could benefit meningitis patients. The triterpenes and polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms help make your immune system stronger and decrease inflammation caused by the illness.
• Chlorella: Patients who take this single-celled fresh water algae could take advantage of the high chlorophyll content. According to Organic Facts, the chlorophyll that is typically linked to the process of photosynthesis in plants actually has a structure that’s similar to hemoglobin (a protein molecule in red blood cells10).
As a result, red blood cell production is improved, leading to an increase in oxygenation, purification of the blood and faster recovery and repair of the damage caused by meningitis.
• Coconut oil: If fungi are responsible for a case of meningitis, then you can count on coconut oil to help eliminate them. According to a 2015 study published in the journal mSphere, coconut oil worked as an effective alternative to antifungal drugs and may aid in inhibiting the growth of Candida albicans, or yeast that normally live in your digestive tract.11
Unlike vegetable oils that have unhealthy long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) present in coconut oil are known to help your body absorb nutrients, enhance your body’s metabolism and promote weight loss. These fatty acids are also converted to energy instead of being stored as fat.
Aside from beneficial antifungal properties, coconut oil also contains antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-viral properties, making this oil an all-around health booster.
Lifestyle Tweaks That Are Effective Against Meningitis
Aside from the natural treatment protocols mentioned earlier, there are also certain changes to your lifestyle that you should make to not only get rid of meningitis, but keep your body in tiptop shape and aid in preventing other illnesses from harming you:12,13,14
• Maintain a healthy diet: Aside from getting enough rest, a healthy diet composed of real food can assist in treating meningitis and building up your immune system. This means that your diet should have virtually unlimited amounts of organic vegetables, substantial quantities of healthy fats and moderation portions of grass-fed meats.
Don’t forget to hydrate with water as well, so that excess waste, bacteria and proteins are flushed from your body and do not build up in your kidneys and bladder.15 If you want a refreshing flavor to your drink, add lemon or cucumber slices, or even lime juice.
Fruit juice is also another option, but consume it fresh and in moderation, and do not buy any grocer’s processed varieties. Fruits in general contain fructose, which can be disastrous to your health if consumed excessively.
• Bed rest is important: This is actually one of the best remedies for meningitis. By making sure to get plenty of rest, the patient allows his or her immune system to recuperate from the damage caused by the illness, as well as lessen exposure to other pathogens and viruses. Aside from bed rest, unnecessary exposure to temperature changes and germ-heavy environments is also advised.
Because some cases of meningitis can be either contagious or extremely painful, there are patients who may require hospitalization, which can last up to a few days or even weeks, especially if complications arise.
• Use cold packs if you have a fever: While these are not able to ultimately stop the agent that causes meningitis, cold packs could provide relief. This is because some patients may develop fever, which may become severe in some instances. Using cold packs helps in keeping the fever down, so that your immune system may better combat inflammation and infection.
• Try a neutral bath: In meningitis patients, blood could rush to the brain and the spinal cord as your body attempts to relieve this complication. But more inflammation could still happen, despite your body’s best efforts. Neutral baths allow your blood to respond to the infection and redistribute properly all over your body, as well as relieve inflammation and discomfort in both your brain and spinal cord.
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